This is Burkeís team. This is his preferred coach, even if he didnít hire him. These are mostly players he has acquired.
If this was John Ferguson Jr., there would be a metaphorical noose waiting for his neck. He was an easy target. But because itís Burke, who has won a Stanley Cup, who has never ducked a question, who did good work in Vancouver, who came to Toronto with so much hope and hype, there is the tendency to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But for how long?
That is the difficulty of the Maple Leafs situation. This is a team without much hope. They had no centres yesterday. They have no big time centres today. Tomorrow, other than the possibility of Nazem Kadri, there may be no other centres to choose from. They didnít have their first round pick last June. They donít have their first round draft pick this June. June of 2012 is a long way away.
The Burke Leafs, unless they vastly improve, are a team lacking leadership, skill, depth and a definitive blueprint to the future.
And there are few trades to be made in this salary capped National Hockey League world even though Burke has already made deals for Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg, players that were supposed to make the Leafs better. Individually, each should add something to the Leafs. Collectively, for everything they have provided, there is something still lacking, something missing. And inside, that must bother Burke terribly.
ďIím sure this (losing) is killing him,Ē said J.S. Giguere, the Leafs goalie and apparent spokesman, who won a Cup with Burke in Anaheim. ďAnd Iím sure in the back of his mind, he knows weíre capable of doing good. I know Brian. He believes in us. Weíre his players. He brought us in because he believes in us.Ē
The Leafs best defenceman this season, Luke Schenn, was not a Burke draft choice. He inherited him from the previous administration.
The Leafs most complete forward this season, Nikolai Kulemin, was not a Burke selection. Kulemin was drafted in the Ferguson years.
The Leafs largest plus player, Mikhail Grabovski, was a Cliff Fletcher deal.
The Burke additions on defence, Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin, have yet to meet expectations, let alone play anywhere near the level of their salaries. All of them played better before arriving in Toronto.
The Burke additions on offence, Tyler Bozak, Kessel, Clarke MacArthur, Versteeg, Colton Orr, Mike Brown, Fredrik Sjostrom, Christian Hansen, were supposed to change the offensive nature of the team, or team toughness, or something: But like everything else, the wingers are strangled by the weakness at centre.
A quick confession: I was a huge advocate of the hiring of Burke. I thought he was a perfect choice for this city and the franchise. I was a fan of the way he rebuilt the Anaheim defence, which enabled the Ducks to win a Stanley Cup. I was impressed with the clever deals he had made in the past. I saw him as someone who would bring sense and stability and aggressiveness and purpose to the Maple Leafs front office, something that had been lacking for years.
But I didnít like the Martin Gerber waiver claim in 2009, which didnít allow the Leafs to bottom out when they ran out of goaltenders, thus costing the team a lottery pick which could have turned out to be John Tavares or Matt Duchene. I didnít like the price he paid for Kessel. I think he sharply overpaid for Komisarek and Beauchemin. All of it in a rush of impatience.
I still believe Brian Burke can make this team work.
But itís easy to wonder now if his bark isnít a whole lot more dangerous than his bite?